By: Ashley McCubbin
20 years of competition with 272 races under his belt, equating to 24 race victories including 3 Indianapolis 500 trophies, 83 top podiums and three runner-ups in the NTT IndyCar Series standings have Helio Castroneves as one of the most successful drivers of all-time. So when he shifted focus to IMSA SportsCars with Team Penske, it was believed he had written the final chapter of his career.
That was not the case, though, as he will return in 2021, running six races – Barber Motorsports Park, Grand Prix of Long Beach, Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis GP, Portland and Laguna – for Meyer Shank Racing.
“Even though I was in the sports car program, INDYCAR has always been part of my life,” he commented. “I enjoy it very much. I love the sport. I grew up in open wheel. Basically as soon as the Acura program was terminated, I said, you know what, let’s go back. Let’s go back because I feel that I have unfinished business in the INDYCAR world. And here we go.
“Having this program, six races, it’s a great opportunity to come back and build something unique. Again, Mike (Shank) and Jim (Mayer), they are able to build something really spectacular, and I felt this could be a long way, and hopefully that’s the goal. And again, not only that, but it’s coming back to the Indy 500, which obviously everybody knows we’re really searching for that number four. Couldn’t do it anymore with Team Penske; it could be awesome to do it with Mike and Jim and everyone at Shank Racing.”
Castroneves had driven for Roger Penske from the beginning of his IndyCar career, making a separation from The Captain as an end to a dynasty. He does have his blessing, though, as Mike Shank went to see team president Tim Cindric before pursuing the idea, with Penske feeling “there was a great opportunity.”
“They are part of my family. They were part of my life basically, my career, my life,” he said. “Right now, again, as you’re still saying, Roger and I are partners in dealerships and he is the guy that I’ll always ask for guidance. But now there is an opportunity here to make new friends, to build something different. As you heard Mike saying, everything we’re going to try to do here is to have a phenomenal result, and especially in the Indy 500. When you see that, come on, what more can you ask for?
“As I mentioned before, Jim is a guy that’s passionate about racing, and everyone is excited. Everyone is looking forward to it. We have work, yes, no question, but this is the new chapter of my life, as you mentioned, and I’m looking forward to building new relationships and having great results, too. Looking forward to it. I can’t stop smiling because obviously I’m extremely excited. It’s been an amazing couple of months, no question, but we have a lot of work to do, but I’m ready for that challenge.”
Meyer Shank Racing is ultimately the new kids on the block, having only entered IndyCar competition four years ago with Jack Harvey behind the wheel. Although they have yet to score a victory, they have shown speed with a career-best third in the Indianapolis Grand Prix in 2019. They also took big strides as team in transitioning from a part-time organization to the full schedule in 2020.
With having built their program, a combination of experience and passion from Castroneves is what they believe is necessary to take the next step with goals of eventually expanding to a pair of full-time efforts.
“I think the passion Helio has is as strong as any 20-year-old out there right now,” Shank said. “I think the knowledge he has is times four of anybody out there. And I have to be honest with you, we have metrics that we look at from all the drivers that Bob Perona, our driver coach, has put together, and when we look at Helio’s numbers from 2016 and 2017, he’s in the top four of all categories when the switch happened over at Team Penske for him.”
Now as Castroneves looks to add to those numbers with Shank, there’s no set goals in stone as the veteran says the sky is the limit.
“I don’t see anything to stop us from having great results and winning races,” he commented. “I feel that you saw Mike mention about it when we spoke, as well, the commitment, not only from him, from his group, as well. Everyone is really excited, and we’ve got to carry this momentum, and just, you know, translate that to the race cars.
“And Jack, as well, he has been there. He has already been with the team. It would be great to have this synergy together so that we can work together so that not only one car but both cars will be up there. Again, it’s limited races, yes, but it’s a great opportunity, and one that I’m really looking forward to.”